Guest Opinion: At the brink of nuclear war, who will lead?
May 21, 2018
Ignoring international partners, world public opinion and action, the U.S. took additional steps these past weeks to renounce another international leadership role, this time in nuclear disarmament.
On the same day that Austria became the ninth nation to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran Nuclear Deal while the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Forces Committee approved funding of the submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) "low-yield" nuclear warheads — each action fueling the new arms race and moving us closer to the brink of nuclear war.
The world's non-nuclear nations have given up on waiting for the United States and other nuclear nations to fulfill our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation to "work in good faith to eliminate nuclear weapons." They are refusing to be held hostage any longer to the threats of the "nuclear nine" realizing from the 2013 "Nuclear Famine, 2 Billion At Risk" scientific report that there is no such thing as a "limited nuclear war."
Any regional nuclear war has the potential to cause climate change potentiating a global famine. The non-nuclear nations have taken their future into their own hands, adopting last year's "Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons" declaring nuclear weapons illegal to have, develop, use or threaten to use. Once 50 nations have ratified the treaty, it becomes international law, and the nations that continue to possess these weapons will be further stigmatized as pariah states. Vietnam became the 10th nation to ratify the treaty on Thursday.
Today, the world is in a far more precarious state than it has been in years. U.S. relations with Russia are at their lowest point in decades with tension over Ukraine and Syria bringing our forces into direct conflict. Relations with China have deteriorated with the Trump-initiated trade war harming farmers and American manufacturers as we remove ourselves from much of the international commerce world. The recycled Israeli-provided "intelligence" on Iran used to breech our commitment to the international community and unilaterally walk away is reminiscent of the "intelligence" on Iraq's nuclear stockpiles that justified our longest war in Iraq. Fake intelligence.
The sophomoric rhetoric toward North Korea puts the entire Korean Peninsula and region at risk and bodes ominously in the event that it does not go well or fails to happen. This is occurring at a time when diplomacy ought to be our greatest effort yet our state department has been decimated and our National Security Advisor John Bolton has both advocated for preemptively striking North Korea and previously for the decimation of the United Nations.
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The just-completed U.N. NPT PrepCom conference with its lack of consensus and doublespeak by the nuclear states regarding their modernization programs provided little assurance to the non-nuclear weapons states that they were serious in their legal commitment to abolish nuclear weapons.
It is this climate that prompted the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to move their Doomsday Clock to two minutes 'til midnight, nuclear apocalypse, this past January — the closest to midnight since the height of the Cold War in 1953. Yet this is a crisis of our making and a reality that does not have to be. We can take a different path and move back from the brink of nuclear war. The invoking of luck that a nuclear war either by intention, error or miscalculation is not a security policy. Ultimately, luck runs out.
The choice is ours. The American people when provided with the facts about nuclear weapons overwhelmingly oppose their use and want to see them eliminated. There are concrete actions that we can take to move back from the brink. Yet few in Congress, as demonstrated by ill-considered support for the Trump Nuclear Doctrine, have the courage to lead.
Fortunately the people are taking action invoking the adage that, "When the people lead, the leaders will follow." There is a movement sweeping across the U.S. generated by the medical and scientific communities. This "Back from the Brink" grassroots campaign is being endorsed by cities, towns, medical and other professional organizations, faith communities and others.
This call to prevent nuclear war asks the United States to lead a global effort by, 1. Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first; 2. Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack; 3. Taking the U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; 4. Canceling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons; and, 5. Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
This campaign can be endorsed by all at http://www.preventnuclearwar.org. The people are responding and making their voices heard. Who among our leaders has the understanding and courage to lead us back from the brink?
Robert F. Dodge, M.D., serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions, and writes for PeaceVoice.